Russia’s airstrike campaign in Syria enters its fourth week and Russian officials are finally admitting what the rest of the world has suspected for some time: that Moscow’s aim is to support Syrian President al-Assad in retaking the land lost to those rebelling against his government. Oh, and attacking ISIS is a goal as well.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is doubling down for a chance to stymie the United States’ influence in the region. If successful, Russia’s military drive would essentially force the United States and its allies to choose between Assad (who the U.S. believes is a major violator of human rights) and ISIS.
Iliyas Umakhanov, deputy speaker of Russia’s upper house Federation Council, stated that “They’re going to have to recognize that [ISIS] is the real threat that has been countered only by the Syrian regular army commanded by President Bashar al-Assad.”
Russian officials also point out that there is no “moderate opposition” in Syria: only ISIS and other terrorists and pro-Assad forces.
Commander of the Russian operation in Syria, General Andrey Kartapolov, stated that, “In the West, they talk about ‘moderate opposition,’ but so far we haven’t seen any in Syria. Any person who takes up arms and fights the legal authorities, how moderate can he be?”
Moscow’s campaign is presently focused on routing the rebels that oppose Assad, including ISIS, as well as the “moderate” rebels supported by the United States-led coalition.
Fyodor Lukyanov, head of the Moscow-based Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, noted that, “Everybody understands that ‘terrorists’ is a very vague definition which allows Russia to target all groups it needs to fight in order to achieve the main goal - strengthen Syrian army positions and help them restore control over major cities.”
The United States, in the meantime, plans on having diplomatic talks in the hopes of restarting negotiations regarding a political settlement in the war-torn country.
So, as the U.S. continues talking, Russia’s military operation is taking action - with ground forces expanding into Syria. Moscow is working with Syrian and Iranian forces to advance against the rebel forces.
Yet, some believe that Russia is not the only one in control of the situation. Mustafa Alani, a member of the Gulf Research Center pointed out that, “The Russians have not seen the heat of Syria yet. The regional powers can give the Russians limited time to see if their intervention can lead to a political settlement - if not, there is going to be a proxy war.”
And, while Saudi Arabia has some reservations about Russia’s plan, it is working with Moscow to “guarantee the unity of Syria and reach a peaceful settlement in the country even if it comes at the hands of the Russians.”